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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Buy Gold from Jesus


“I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” Revelation 3:18

People are very different in the way they think. Google COP21 – the climate summit which has been taking place recently – and you’ll find politicians harping on their agenda; protesters calling the politicians out as liars; Greta Thunberg throwing her 2 penny’s-worth in; and probably a lot of confused or indifferent people in-between.

There’s not a lot of consensus around climate change or what we should do about it – even in this room perhaps, never mind on the world stage.

One Pursuit - Happiness

But there’s at least one thing about which every human being on the planet is agreed; one thing that unites us all in the way we think. That one thing is happiness. When it comes to happiness we all think the same way and we all ‘will’ the same way. The final expression looks different in every case – granted - but what’s going on in the heart is exactly the same for every person.

When it comes to happiness the heroin addict thinks exactly the same way as the hedge-fund manager; the prostitute exactly the same way as the plasterer.

A Frenchman called Blaise Pascal said it like this in the 1600’s:

All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The [human] will never takes the least step but to this [goal]. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.

I think that’s true, because that is the way God has designed us. God has designed us to be people who pursue, relentlessly, happiness. How that comes to expression will look different in every one of us, but the basic pursuit is the same.

Blaise says, ‘whatever different means they employ, they tend to this end’.

One of the strongest and most basic means – a means that enables a huge diversity of other means - is money. Money is the most powerful, flexible, means of pursuing things that make us happy.

Here’s a basic example. To sit in front of a warm fire makes for a happier existence than to sit in a cold living room with no heating in the middle of winter. It’s unpleasant enough to sit shivering in an unheated living room, that we would use some of our hard-earnt money to buy fuel to burn.

The desire to be warm is a desire to be happier than if we sat in the cold. And our desire to be warm and happy empowers our will to take some of our money and buy some logs to put on the fire.

That’s the kind of creatures we are, and money is, perhaps, the most powerful means to pursue it. Notice I don’t say to obtain it. We’ll find out soon if there are more powerful ways to obtain happiness, but money is at least a powerful means in our pursuit of happiness.

The reason for an introduction like this is that the two churches we are going to compare and contrast this morning have very different attitudes to money. And their differing attitudes, as you might have guessed from the first two churches we looked at last time, receive very different responses from Jesus.

Poverty & Riches

The two churches are Smyrna and Laodicea. Let’s read part of each of the letters to these two churches and see the contrast. Chapter 2 verse 8:

‘To the angel of the Church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the first and the last, who died and came back to life – that is Jesus who is from everlasting to everlasting and who died and rose to life – I know your afflictions and your poverty – yet you are rich!’

Stop there. Jesus has nothing bad to say to this church. If they are poor and yet simultaneously rich, then their poverty is something that Jesus is not ashamed of, and their riches are something Jesus is affirming of.

And it does raise the question, how can you be poor and rich at the same time?

Now turn over to Chapter 3, verse 17 (the letter to Laodicea):

You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing”. But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich.’

Jesus doesn’t have anything good to say about Laodicea. So, if they think they are rich, Jesus is not impressed with their riches, and if Jesus has gold to offer them that will make them rich in his eyes then we can know for sure it’s not the wealth of this world because they already got that, and Jesus isn’t impressed.

Putting these two churches together, Jesus is telling us you can be as rich as Elon Musk in this world and be a pauper, and you can be as poor as a peasant and be richer than the richest person on earth. How can that be?

The answer to that question lies in the pursuit of happiness. If we are all alike – seeking our happiness as Blaise Pascal notes – then we are all searching for things that will satisfy our souls most completely, most persistently, most deeply.

Now, the best that we can come up with is a kind of platter of delights. The most basic things on the platter are food, warmth, clothing, and shelter.

More money means more opportunities to expand the platter. More money means, a better house, a car, a holiday, M&S food instead of Aldi food, etc. The more money we have the more the platter grows.

But how rich are these things really? They all provide a degree of satisfaction, and joined together they may provide a lot of satisfaction, but none of them (and not even all of them joined together) produce for us permanent, deep, and meaningful satisfaction. The reason they don’t, is because of decay and death.

The things we find satisfaction in, wear out. The people we find comfort in, die. The places we get pleasure from fade, because our bodies lose their vigour. The TV programmes we pursue, terminate. Everything in this life tends toward decay and death. When we invest our pursuit of happiness in this world, we are missing the point. All these things, by their decay and by their short-fall, are telling us they are not the thing our hearts are truly looking for.

The reason is that our hearts were made for eternal, surpassingly great, penetratingly deep, substance. And this world simply doesn’t have it.

Jesus is saying in chapter 3, verse 17 when you invest your heart in the things of this world, you are wretched, poor, blind and naked. And, by contrast, in verse 18, Jesus is saying come to me for real gold. Come to me for everlasting satisfaction.

Jesus once told a parable about the kingdom of heaven. Bear in mind that on another occasion, he said that by his appearing, the kingdom of heaven had come near. So, Jesus was saying that he is the key to access the kingdom of heaven. If you have Jesus you have the Kingdom of heaven.

He said in his parable, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure. We all understand the appeal of treasure. In his parable he depicts this treasure buried in a field and a man who comes along and discovers it. Jesus says, when that man found the treasure, he hid it again. And then in his joy he ran away quickly to sell everything he had in order to buy that field. Jesus is saying that’s a smart man. The treasure in the field is worth ten thousand times the total sum of all his possessions.

Jesus counsels us this morning: get gold from him, even though it cost us this whole world. To receive Jesus as your treasure - forsaking everything else - is the best investment you can possible make because it’s the path to the greatest and the most meaningful and longest lasting happiness.

Here’s something else Jesus said during his ministry:

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?’

This is very profound, because Jesus is standing at your door this morning (verse 20) and knocking. He stands there presenting himself as more valuable for your eternal happiness than anything this world can offer.

If you reject him and continue to pursue your happiness in things that have been made, rather than in him who made you, then he is offended. That would be to snub him. And to snub him has eternal consequences. Not only will you depart this life dissatisfied and unfulfilled, but Jesus has promised you an eternity of punishment for that preference. Here’s what he says:

Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell’.

In other words Jesus promises hell for those who refuse to be eternally happy in him.

Dogs Return to Vomit

Now you might sit here this morning and be thinking I’m safe because I trust in Jesus. That would be precisely why this letter to Laodicea is in the bible. The problem with the Laodiceans is that they had been deceived by the world.

Like everyone who claims to have received Jesus as their treasure, they’d started well. But look, they were returning to material things, verse 17: ‘you say I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing’.

They’d started to think that they could have Jesus and love their things. I think they were the kind of people who turned up to church on Sunday; listened, read, sang, fellowshipped and went home again, and had practically zero thought for Jesus; zeal for Jesus; love for Jesus, from one day to the next. But they loved things – oh how they loved things!

They’d got themselves all comfortable and warm, but if you asked them to give up their time for Jesus they’d have said, ‘No way. We need to work, to earn, to spend on our pleasures’ (James 4).

Jesus describes them as ‘lukewarm’ in chapter 3, verse 16. And because they were lukewarm he says, ‘I am about to spit you out of my mouth’. When Jesus encounters a church or a Christian, he’s measuring their temperature. He puts them in his mouth as it were, to see if they are a palatable temperature.

A cool Christian is not a worthy Christian, and Jesus spits cool Christians out of his mouth. Food that gets spat out folks, gets trampled on the ground and is fit only for dogs. It’s not a good thing to be on the verge of getting spat out – it means rejection; and in this context it means eternal rejection.

People say the bible is full of verses that tell us that if we belong to Jesus we can’t be rejected. That’s true – I believe that. So, you have to conclude, that if he spits a person out – rejects them – it’s because they never truly belonged to him at all.

This is a warning about the deceptiveness of money and things. Jesus is saying a love of money and things is deadly. Jesus once said, ‘you can’t love God and money’. That’s what he’s saying here too. A person who says, ‘I love Jesus’ but spends their energy, time and resources on stuff, is lying. You say you love Jesus but you show you love things. Jesus won’t share the throne of your heart with anyone or anything else. He’s having it for himself or not at all.

It’s really challenging to live in the world and to not be of it. The main reason it’s so challenging is not because it’s calling you a fool for rejecting what it has to offer, but because it’s always enticing you to believe it has a better offer.

The world’s message is one which says happiness consists in what you have – I’m tempted to say that Instagram wouldn’t exist if that wasn’t the world’s message. Our senses are assaulted on a daily basis with this message, but Jesus has some very sound counsel for people who love him and live in this world. Verse 18, ‘I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve [ointment] to put on your eyes, so you can see’.

Come to Jesus

For the Laodiceans it’s not too late – Jesus hasn’t spat them out yet; he’s kind and patient, but not forever. He tells them to come to him. How do you come to Jesus? He tells us in verses 19 and 20.

Verse 19 is a plea from Jesus to take a long hard look at your life; to be honest with yourself. And if you find yourself lukewarm – not on fire for Jesus, but in danger of hell-fire – to repent. The word that he uses to describe that reflection is ‘earnest’. Be earnest.

Oh, how we need to learn this as Christians. I don’t think Jesus has taught me anything more significant in the last 15 year of my life than that glib Christianity is dangerous Christianity. We are fools, playing around with mud pies, CS Lewis said. How true that is. We are fools playing with the empty toys of this world whilst we are glib about our precious saviour. We need to learn to be earnest. We need to learn discipline in our Christian walks.

And this is how we come to Jesus after that honest self-assessment, we hear his voice at the door. It’s not difficult to know where we hear his voice, but it’s seemingly so difficult to hear it consistently. Do you want to hear Jesus talking to you all the time? I hope so.

Well, I don’t care if you have do radical things like hoof the TV out of the house, or skip the ipad, or bin the PC if that’s what it takes to devote quality time – not merely bible reading plan time which I love – but in-depth time to hear Jesus’ voice in the bible, then do it.

Do what it takes to hear his voice. When you read, he will come into your heart. He will eat with you and you with him – you will fellowship together. Your prayers will be full of his own words back to him if you commune with him like this. And your temperature – your zeal for him - will assuredly rise.

Poor Smyrna had it Easy

You might be tempted to think it’s easier for Smyrna than for Laodicea because their worldly circumstances were impoverished. They haven’t got worldly wealth to be tempted by, so no wonder they’re doing so well. It’s true, all the things that Jesus counsels the Laodiceans to do, the folks at Smyrna are doing – they’re rich; they buy gold from Jesus constantly. There’s no lukewarm-ness in their ranks.

But remember Job’s wife when God took all of Job’s world away from him. 4 messengers come to Job in chapter 1 to tell him that, in 4 separate calamities, all his flocks and herds have been either stolen or destroyed; all his servants killed; and all his sons and daughters killed when their house collapsed on them. And then, if that wasn’t enough pain, his body was afflicted with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head, which he scraped with a broken piece of pottery as he sat amongst the ashes.

And Job’s wife’s counsel to him in all of this was: ‘curse God’.

The people of Smyrna are described as afflicted and poor. Yet Jesus has nothing against them. The reason he has nothing against them is not because, in our love for Jesus, it’s easier to be materially poor than it is to be materially rich. That’s not it.

Jesus is happy with Smyrna because, in spite of their poverty, they are rich. They had not listened to Job’s wife, they had followed Job’s example when he said, ‘shall we accept good from God and not trouble?’. In their trouble, the people at Smyrna had turned consistently to Jesus and not away from him – that’s why he’s pleased with them. They are rich with the wealth of Jesus himself, and they are not willing to curse God for their afflictions.

Evidently, their afflictions were not over yet though, verse 10, ‘Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you the devil will put some of you in prison to test you and you will suffer persecution for ten days’.

In Smyrna there were ethnic Jews who were not real Jews (verse 9). That is to say they were not Jews according to the new covenant people of God. Under the new covenant a Jew is not Jew who is one outwardly only (i.e. circumcised), but a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, the Apostle Paul says in Romans 2, where circumcision is that of the heart and performed by the Holy Spirit.

In the new covenant era the term Jew gets totally redefined, to mean someone who is spiritually belonging to God. Well, the Jews in Smyrna weren’t belonging to God even though they were ethnic. And they hated the followers of Jesus so much that Jesus describes their synagogue as a synagogue of Satan (verse 9). In all likelihood, the reason Jesus describes it as a synagogue of Satan is because Satan’s intention is to persecute believers and put them to the test - if you want to see what that looks like I would recommend you read Job chapters 1 & 2 later.

Now Smyrna being under Roman rule at the time, would have been subject to Roman laws. And in all likelihood the church in Smyrna would not have been imprisoned by the Romans for following Jesus. But just like Jesus found himself, if the Jews could be stirred up to insight the Romans to put members of the church in Smyrna in prison, then Satan would have achieved his aim and would be able to put these believers to the test.

So, we learn from this that the devil is very crafty, very powerful and very intent on eating up the faith of believers. If you doubt this, I think you doubt it at your peril. The devil is real and he is a roaring lion, looking devour Christians according to Peter (1 Peter 5). That’s what was about to come on those in Smyrna.

So, Jesus is telling us that whilst everything might seem fine, the devil has plans to test us and we should, as followers of him, expect times of persecution. Those seasons will come to us in all kinds of unexpected ways, and the crucial question is, will we persevere through them or will we curse God? That’s the test.

Listen carefully. Romans 8:17-18, ‘Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory’.

Did you hear it? We are children and heirs of eternal life IF we share in his sufferings. Why? Because it’s through suffering that we may also share in his glory. So, if you count yourself a child of God; an heir of heaven, expect suffering, and know that suffering means a share in his glory.

Which is why Jesus says in chapter 2, verse 10: ‘be faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown’. It is through many trials we must enter the kingdom of heaven (Acts 14:22).

That’s why Jesus designates himself the risen one in verse 8. If he suffered, died and rose, we will likewise suffer, die, and rise to eternal life.

I suggest to you, that glib, trite, luxury-pursuing Christianity is found woefully wanting in the face of significant trial. When we’ve become so accustomed to creature comforts here below, the challenge of significant suffering, hardship and persecution becomes a question of, ‘is Jesus worth it?’.

That might not be a question we’re having to face right now, it will be one we have to face before our pilgrimage is over.

Will we be like Job’s wife in the face of suffering, or will we be like the people in Smyrna? That largely depends on how we respond to Jesus words to the Laodiceans. Will we heed his words, be earnest, repent and open the door to him, or will we be spat out of his mouth?

I think that’s a big question for us as Christians in the country and times we find ourselves in.

Jesus finishes his letter to Laodicea with this promise,

to the victorious one I will give the right to sit on my throne’.

Which sounds richer than anything this world could possibly offer, and is surely a significant spur to shun this world’s treasure, and buy gold from Jesus.


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